Drove to Nova Scotia

I spent this past weekend helping move my mom from St. Thomas, Ontario back to HalifaxNova Scotia. The major task was to drive her car down; she had hired a moving company to move the rest of her belongings.

We agreed that the easiest way to do this was for her to drive to Ottawa, then we would continue together to finish the trip. She made it through the traffic on Highway 401 in Toronto to arrive in Ottawa Friday afternoon. We left early Saturday morning. I did most of the driving to Nova Scotia, but she took over for a few hours through New Brunswick.

It gave us an second opportunity to talk. Although we have always tried to be close, we did not always understand each other. So these opportunities for uninterrupted discussions have really helped. Now, I better understand how to show her that I appreciate who she is as a person and as my mother.

Once we arrived in Dartmouth, we checked into the Ramada. My sister Michelle had made reservations of us and her family for the night.

Burke, Kayli and Portia
Burke, Kayli and Portia

On Sunday, we had the day to spend together with nearly all of the family. Only my sister Sue and my nephew Liam were absent (my parents are divorced – sort of). It was the first time in years I met Michelle, Portia, Burke, and Ali, and the first time in a decade to see Kayli. I was so happy to see them all again. I especially enjoyed the long talk I had with Ali and her fiancé Sean.

Very early Monday morning, my mom dropped me off at the airport for my flight back to Ottawa. The visit was short, especially after such a long driving day on Saturday, but I was so glad to spend time with everyone in Nova Scotia.

Viva Las Vegas

My good friend Don and his fiancé Ke invited Rosa and me to their wedding in Las Vegas. Rosa was not able to go due to work commitments.

I almost did not go either. Three days before my flight, I hurt my back with heavy lifting on the weekend and then bowling at the MCO general meeting. I was in a lot of pain. I was afraid I had a lower back hernia (not a herniated disc, but a muscle hernia). I was able to see a doctor who said it was only a muscle spasm, and prescribed some pain killers, anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. The muscles of the lower back are not prone to hernia injuries.

I was feeling a bit better the next day so I went ahead with the trip.

Maverick Helicopter Tours
Maverick Helicopter Tours

Upon arriving in Las Vegas, I checked-in to a Hilton south of the airport. I gathered up my camera equipment and left for Maverick Helicopter departure location, which was very close to the hotel. Rosa had previously visited Las Vegas before we met, and she pushed me to take the same helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon that she had taken.

It took about 45 minutes to complete the check-in for everyone, and then we were assigned to the different helicopters. There were 7 helicopters that would be involved in the sunset tour.

Part of the Las Vegas strip from a Maverick Helicopter tour.
Part of the Las Vegas strip from a Maverick Helicopter tour.

I made sure that I had a good seat for the flight. I was in the centre seat in front, with lots of glass available for taking pictures. However, in practice it was a little harder than I expected as the glass was curved like a bubble – good for viewing but the distortion limited the directions that allowed for good photos. With weight and space restrictions, I could not bring a camera bag, so I put my wide angle Canon EF-S 10-22mm in one coat pocket and my Canon 550EX flash in my other pocket.

Once everyone was buckled in, the pilot started the engines and did the pre-flight check. Then something magical happened – we gently lifted off and hovered about 30cm above the ground. The feeling of hovering in one place and then slowly pivoting around to face the nearby McCarran International Airport was unlike anything I have ever experienced and was totally unexpected how much it would impact me. The freedom of movement, the graceful but intimate feeling of flight, so close to the earth and yet totally unconnected and free to move in any direction. It was a very special feeling for me.

We skimmed down the airport apron performing the final flight checks before the pilot pulled up on the collector and we soared into the sky. The view was magnificent – the city of Las Vegas falling away and then falling behind, the tops of the hotels along the Strip catching the setting sun.

We flew eastward, north of Lake Mead, up and down through the canyons along the top of what would become the Grand Canyon. The pilot did the expected heart-stopping manoeuvres up over the tops of the ridges and plummeting down the far side. I was having such a good time.

The Grand Canyon is about 450km long, up to 29 km wide at the top, and 1,600 metres deep. Nearly two billion years of Earth’s geological history has been exposed by the Colorado River.

The Grand Canyon, after the local sunset.
The Grand Canyon, after the local sunset.

We flew for about 20 minutes to a picnic site at the lower end of the Canyon that had been set up by Maverick for all the guests. They set out drinks, fresh veggies and dip, cheese and crackers. We talked in small groups – my fellow travellers came from all over world – and spent lots of time taking pictures of the surrounding scenery. The top of the Canyon was still catching the sunset and was aglow in pink and rose and orange and red.

After 40 minutes at the picnic site, we all climbed back in the helicopters and flew out of the Canyon and along the eastern side were we rendezvoused for a refuelling stop.

Then we took off for the final leg back to the airport. We flew past the Hoover Dam and then approached the Las Vegas at dusk. The skyline was brilliantly lit up, highlighted by the lights of the Strip.

After touch down, I returned to the hotel exhausted.

The next morning I woke up early due to the 2-hour timezone change. I had a long list of sites I wanted to see, so I checked-out, had a quick breakfast and started off.

Beautiful Red Rock Canyon.
Beautiful Red Rock Canyon.

My first destination was Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, 24km west of downtown. I wanted to do it early in the morning before the heat of the day. There is a one-way 24km long loop road that winds through the area, with parking lots at the various trailheads along the route. I stopped at a few of them to take more pictures and to walk around. With the limited time and the fact that I did not have hiking shoes, I did not stay very long at any stop. The scenery was so beautiful; I want to come back and spend a few days hiking and taking pictures at sunrise and sunset.

The loop road was also popular with bikers (both bicycles and motorcycles). I would love to drive the road at higher speeds like the Silver State Classic Challenge. That would be a blast.

After completing the loop, I headed to the other side of Las Vegas for a tour of the Hoover Dam.

The Hoover Dam is one of the iconic public works in the world, and a beautiful example of the Art Deco style (my favourite). It was built between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression. It is 221 metres tall and 379 metres long (curved). The top is only 14 metres deep, but at the base it is about 200 metres. It is this incredible weight that allows it to hold back the waters of the Lake Mead reservoir – the largest in the country.

After I parked, I first walked out onto the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which forms a bypass from the old narrow road that went along the top of the dam. From the bridge, you have a great view of the face of the dam and the Colorado River 260 metres below; it is the second highest bridge in the U.S.

The Hoover Dam from the Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.
The Hoover Dam from the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.

Next, I took the tour of the interior of the dam. There are 17 turbines in the turbine room providing 2080 Gigawatts of power. The turbines are driven by the water pressure; the water reaches 140km/h when it is fed into the turbines.

After the tour, I had lunch in the café and took a walk along the top of the dam and then returned to Las Vegas.

The wedding was to be held at the Bellagio luxury hotel. I checked-in in the early afternoon. This was another over-the-top experience. I was so excited to be there. The noise of the machines, the bustle of the crowd, the beautiful interior details. It had the right feel – it made me feel like a million bucks to be there.

The elevators are on the other side of the gambling floor of course. There were so many people, and so much going on. I walked around the hotel, then went for a swim in the pool.

I met Don and Ke and the rest of the wedding party in in their Penthouse Suite before dinner. Their room had an amazing view of the famous Fountains of Bellagio through the floor-to-ceiling windows. We had some drinks, some sweets then split into the bachelor and bachelorette parties. The bachelors (well, we were all in relationships/married) had dinner at Prime Steakhouse at the Bellagio. The meal was wonderful – I had a steak of course. Better than the meal was the conversations. Although I had never met any of the other guests, and I am a terrible introvert, I immediately felt relaxed with everyone. Dinner lasted about 2.5 hours.

After dinner, we went to a low-end blackjack table. I had intended to gamble a set amount, but I didn’t bring all the cash with me. I also wasn’t focused on the math, so I eventually lost. I watched the others play and got the hang of it, but the limousine was waiting so I could not start up again.

We had a VIP limo ride to the Spearmint Rhino Las Vegas, a gentleman’s club, and a reserved place and server girls dedicated to our party. The server at my end of the party (we were seated along a row) said she was originally from Budapest, but when I tried to ask more she demurred and didn’t give me any more details. The music was so loud it was hard to talk without extreme effort.

We returned to Bellagio between 2 and 3AM.

The famous Las Vegas sign, at the southern end of the strip.
The famous Las Vegas sign, at the southern end of the strip.

In the morning, I had a short time to take my picture at the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign before returning to the hotel to get ready for the 11AM wedding. Don and Ke had a private balcony overlooking the Fountains of Bellagio. Ke was stunning in her wedding gown. After the ceremony, we watched a special fountain display created just for the wedding party.

We had a few hours of free time between the ceremony and the wedding dinner. I decided I really wanted to celebrate with an ice cream at Café Gelato. I brought my MacBookPro so I could look through the photos I had taken. Over the next 2 hours, most of the rest of the wedding party stopped by and had gelato too. It was great. We were talking as if we had been life-long friends. It was the people I met that made this one of the most memorable trips I’ve taken.

Don and Ke's wedding at the Bellagio.
Don and Ke’s wedding at the Bellagio.

For dinner, we had a private dining room. The food was elegant and delicious. The desert was interesting – a chocolate ball, topped with a sliver of gold leaf, that would dissolve after being covered in hot chocolate.

The next morning I flew back home. Although I only had a short time in Las Vegas, the scenery, the novelty and the new friends made this one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken.

Six Weeks in Jakarta

In mid-January, I was asked to plan a 4-week stay in Jakarta for a project for a special customer. I would be assisted again by the Head of Sales and Ashish, a verification prime from India. As I had previous experience in Indonesia, and I was available for such a long deployment, I was given the opportunity.

The project was to test a new feature with the customer that had requested it.

Upon arrival, I checked-in to my home for the next month, the Hotel Kristal. At first I was checked into a room with two bedrooms, but it was on a smoking floor so I asked to be moved to a single room on a non-smoking floor. Each room has a small kitchen, so I was able to prepare my own meals and have cold drinks when I wish. The hotel was conveniently next to the Hero Supermarket, so keeping my kitchen stocked was not a problem.

My first week in Jakarta was dedicated to planning for the upcoming testing, including the test plan and test site selection. We agreed with the customer to use the Museum Transportasi in Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII). TMII is a huge culture-based recreational area in the Southeast part of Jakarta. It contains many museums, a huge lake with artificial islands in the shape of Indonesia, venues representing the cultures of all 33 Indonesian provinces, gardens, public buildings, religious sites, a cable car and wind-powered monorail (one of only three in the world), recreation facilities, an aviary and a reptile zoo. It was a fascinating location.

The museum site was two-stories tall, with the long building overhangs connecting to form a sheltered walking area on the ground floor. We worked mostly on the ground floor, enjoying the open air but avoiding the hot sun and heavy rains.

Richard with fans at Taman Mini Indonesia Indah.
Richard with fans at Taman Mini Indonesia Indah.

During our 2 weeks working at the site, I was a frequent point of attention for Indonesians visiting the museum. Often I was asked by school children and adults if they could take their picture with me. I was told by my Indonesian cohorts that I was often discussed by people walking by. I guess that many had not seen a Caucasian before, so I was the subject of much curiosity. I took it all in stride as I was just as fascinated by Indonesians as they were of me!

Of my Indonesian cohorts, I grew very attached to them and made some deep friendships that I value greatly. We had the best talks about life, family, history, politics, and religion – some of my favourite topics. Many an evening we sat in a nearby café drinking chocolate milkshakes and having a smoke, talking for hours.

The integration testing went well, any issues were found were addressed quickly by the design teams. Ashish was invaluable as he was the validation prime for the feature we were demonstrating. As I had only 2.5 months experience, his deep knowledge of our products were critical to the completion of the testing. I learned so much and I am glad that I was able to contribute.

I had little time off during February, as we were working 7 days a week. When I was not at the test location, I was at the hotel writing reports and emails. Sometimes I could take a few hours to go to the malls. The nearest was Citos (Cilandak Town Square Mall), which had a great variety of restaurants and a fabulous bookstore called Aksara. The other mall was the massive Pondok Indah Mall (PIM) which also has a huge variety of foods and hundreds of stores.

Monumen Nasional in Jakarta is 132 metres tall. It is the national monument for Indonesian independence.
Monumen Nasional in Jakarta is 132 metres tall. It is the national monument for Indonesian independence.

Only once did Ashish and I take time to visit a tourist site in Jakarta. One Sunday morning we traveled to see the National Monument (also known as Monas). It is a 132-metre tall tower in Central Jakarta built to commemorate the struggle for Indonesian independence. In the base of the plinth is the Indonesian National History Museum, which uses dioramas to portray the long history of Indonesia from pre-history through the events of the past few decades. I wanted to continue to walk around the area to visit the huge Istiqlal Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia, but we could see the rain clouds gathering so we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel.

The downside to being in Jakarta for 6 weeks was how much I missed Rosa. We spoke every few days using FaceTime and Skype, and wrote emails every day. The 12-hour time difference made realtime communications difficult. I also missed driving in the MCO Ice Race. I called my friend and co-driver Jay the next day, and he told me about the event. I so wish I had been there.

Along with the friends I made in Jakarta, I also really enjoyed the opportunity to try so many local dishes. They would take me out to different restaurants that I would never have found by myself. Some were very spicy, but I was able to finish everything I sampled.

As I approached the end of my stay, I was asked to extend my trip so that I could provide a training session for the customer. I agreed and extended my stay at the Hotel Kristal by another 2 weeks.

Weekly fashion show at Citos (Town Square) mall.
Weekly fashion show at Citos (Town Square) mall.

As the Visa-On-Arrival is only valid for 4 weeks, I had to go through the process of extending my visa. This involved a lot of research on the internet and two trips downtown to the Kantor Imigrasi office. I was nervous as I was going alone and was not confident that I would find enough people who spoke English. The process was very confusing, involving going to areas on three different floors in the building, but the tips I read on the Internet provided the guidance I needed.

By this time Ashish had returned to India so I was by myself for the remaining time. Providing training was a real challenge, as I felt I was so new to the area. I prepared very hard and was able to provide a half-day training session for about 20 people. I think it was well received.

After the training was completed and the trial results were accepted by the customer, I could book my return flight for the second week of March. I was faced will some big challenges, but I very pleased with the accomplishments and achievements for my 6 weeks in Jakarta. I hope I can travel back again in the future.

St. Thomas

I visited St. Thomas this weekend. It was to be a visit with my mom, my youngest sister and one of my nieces. However my sister was called away to Nova Scotia at the last moment and my niece went with her. So I had an extended weekend to spend time with my mom and see part of southern Ontario.

My mom had not traveled extensively around Southern Ontario, so this was a good opportunity for us to drive around sightseeing.

Our first stop on Saturday was Stratford. This small town of 31,000 has been the site of the annual Stratford Shakespeare Festival since 1953. We stopped at the Festival Theatre, which echoes the circular shape of the original Globe Theatre. It seats 1,826 attendees and opened in 1957. As the theatre was not open, we could not see the inside, but photos online look very interesting. I should like to attend a performance in the future. The monumental red-brick City Hall was completed in 1899; it is now designated a national historic site of Canada.

After lunch at Bentley’s Bar Inn (pulled-pork poutine), we continued to London. London is a good sized metro of just under 500,000 people. We saw the hospital where my sister sometimes works, the train station, stadium, and so forth. The highlight building for me was the wonderful Art Deco Dominion Public building, finished in 1936.

That evening we went to see the new movie “Lincoln”. We both enjoyed the movie.

The next day mom suggested we visit Port Stanley, which is a beach that she often goes to with my sister and niece. Although it was winter we still went to see frozen Lake Erie. I’m sure it’s a great place in the summer; in the winter the wind pushes the lake ice onto the shore.

_MG_1616We drove along the shore of Lake Erie, where there were many wind farms. We ended up in Port Burwell. Port Burwell has a very unique attraction. The Oberon-class submarine HMCS Ojibwa (S72) was brought ashore to become part of the planned Museum of Naval History. Seeing a Cold War submarine sitting on solid ground was mind bending.

Although the trip was short, just three days, it gave us time to talk about life, the family, and the future. It is sometimes difficult to have really good discussions over the phone, which has been our main method of communicating.

Bandung Indonesia

On the second day of my new job, Yanick, a Wi-Fi teammate, came into my office and said we were going to Bandung, Indonesia next week. Wow! Even though I expected a lot of travel, I just didn’t think that it would start on my second day.

The trip was to perform a proof of concept, which is a demonstration of our product capabilities. These are sometimes done as part of a ‘bake-off’ with other vendors to be allowed to bid on future contracts or to win an existing RFP. I would be traveling with my co-worker and would have help from our Indonesian office.

The trip to Indonesia took 33 hours including layovers. I flew from Ottawa to Toronto, where I met up with friends for dinner before heading back to Pearson for the 15h40m flight to Hong Kong. This flight flew up over the pole and down through Siberia, Mongolia and China. From Hong Kong I flew to Jakarta (4h50min) and met up with Yanick, who had flown from Detroit. The Indonesia office booked a car to take us the 2-3 hours to Bandung.

The view of the southern part of Bandung, as seen from my window at the Hilton.Bandung is a city of about 2.4 million that is packed on the weekends with Jakartans who want to escape to the cooler climate in Bandung. Many families own homes in both cities. Bandung is well known for its international brands outlet shopping area and people often come from the surrounding countries for a discount-shopping weekend.

We arrived at the Hilton in the late afternoon and had dinner with the Head of Sales. The next morning, we prepared for the first meeting with the client. We were also waiting for test equipment to arrive from Jakarta. We arrived at the customer premises in the late afternoon. We had a very high-level overview of what we planned to accomplish over the next two weeks and planned to reconvene the next day for a full test plan review.

The next day we again waited for more equipment from Jakarta; it was hard to scrounge up exactly what we needed (routers, switches). While we waited, we continued to review and refine the test plan. We also visited the BEC – Bandung Electronic Center. The BEC was amazing; my teammate and I were gobsmacked. It was four floors containing hundreds of electronics businesses. The first two floors were just cell phones and SIM cards. The upper floors had PC components (video cards, motherboards, drives, printer, and so forth) intermixed with a few camera stores. I was drooling over some of the high-end camera equipment that was available.

We were looking for a cheap Layer-3 switch, but we could not locate one. We also had to buy an unlocked Android phone for Hotspot 2.0 testing. We had a special firmware for the phone to Hotspot 2.0, which is still very new and not yet officially supported on any device. We also bought a SIM card for the phone.

For the proof of concept, we broke the work down so that we could run multiple tests at the same time. I took on the Access Point (AP) Throughput and Outdoor Performance tests.

The first test was interesting. It is basically the RFC2544 test suite. We received a testing unit from Jakarta and wired it to two APs, then tested the throughput between then with various different packet sizes. The test was simple in execution but it required a lot of time for set up and to run each test. We had to perform the same tests on both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz channels.

Late in the first week I started to come down with an upper respiratory tract infection. It hit me hard and by the weekend I felt really awful.

Shops along the lip of the upper crater of the Tangkuban Perahu volcano.On the weekend, we planned to play tourist in the area around Bandung. We reserved a car and driver for Saturday and went north to Tangkuban Perahu, a dormant volcano. There were two areas to see at the volcano. The first was the main tourist area where a long line of souvenir huts lined the rim of the upper crater (named “Kawah Ratu”). There was a modest amount of steam rising from the crater. Even with illness diminishing my sense of smell, the sulphur smell was very strong. The volcano last erupted in 1983.

We took a few pictures and walked through the souvenir shops. We found that there was another crater (named “Kawah Domas”) down a forest trail, but we were only permitted to go if we hired a local guide. This sounded interesting, so we hired one. It started to drizzle, and the trail became very slippery.

The drizzle turned to light rain as we reached the lower crater. It was hellish. There were pools of steaming, boiling water turning the crater into a scene from a war movie. Locals were boiling eggs in the water to sell to the tourists. We were allowed to walk around inside this boiling cauldron before the heavier rain chased us back to our car.

IMG_0294For a late lunch we stopped as a well-known restaurant, the Kampung Daun. We invited our driver to eat with us. We sat on cushions around a low table under a palm-roofed hut with a gentle brook burbling beside us. We had typical local cuisine (“nasi timbel komplit”), which included chicken, rice, tempeh and some very spicy condiments. It was delicious, but my illness was taking a toll. Instead of continuing on to the discount shops, I was dropped off at the hotel to rest.

Before the trip, I had researched interesting things to do. I found that there were weekly ram fights (“adu domba”) in the villages around Bandung. The rams are not hurt by the fighting, as this is the normal way they determine superiority. The villagers bet on the fights.

However when we asked about it, we were told that they were were no events that weekend, so we could not see them. I will have to find a way to see this spectacle sometime in the future.

The second week was spent completing the test plan. We were able to finish the most difficult tests including the outdoor coverage test. This test was made difficult by the heavy rainstorms that would start daily around 11:30 and last for the rest of the afternoon. This meant we only had about 90 minutes each day to set up the equipment and test area, run some tests then rapidly tear it all down when we could hear and see the wall of rain advancing on us.

My return flight was Saturday. It was suggested that we should stay in Jakarta overnight and head to the airport from there, saving 3-hours of driving and reducing the risk of a traffic jam causing me to miss my flight.

We stayed at the amazing Ritz-Carlton hotel in Mega Kuningan. After a delicious meal at Loewy, we went out to Dragonfly, a nightclub frequented by the rich and the beautiful of Indonesia. We stayed out far too late and returned to the hotel well after 3AM. I checked out around 7:30 and was on my way back to Canada.

I am so pleased to have this opportunity to learn on the job and to visit an exotic country like Indonesia.

[Dec 31, 2013: little did I know then that I would return again to Indonesia many times, spending a total of 14 weeks in the country over the following year.]

2012 Oshkosh Air Venture show

Helmet on a Yak-9
Helmet on a Yak-9

Over time, my father and I have been more and more distant from each other. Of course, the physical distance plays a role in our emotional distance. Over the last year, I have desired to reconnect with him (and my entire family). In the spring, he suggested that something he has always wanted to do was to go to the Oshkosh Air Show. I thought this would be a good opportunity to spent time with him.

As he lives in Nova Scotia, I arranged for us to meet at Pearson for our flight from Toronto to Milwaukee.

I worked Thursday morning then left for the airport just before noon. Once in Toronto, I went to the gate were I hoped I would meet up with Dad. I waited and waited, while continuing to work using my laptop (I still have a heavy work load). The time passed and there was no sign of him. I tried calling his cell phone, but got no answer. I grew more and more concerned. Eventually, the plane started boarding, but still no sign. Once I was seated, one of the crew stopped at my seat and asked my name. I told him. As he walked away, I thought that there might be some confusion, so I told him that my Dad and I have the same name. I explained that he was missing. They then closed the door, with the seat beside me empty.

The stewardess stopped by to ask about the situation. She allowed me to make a final call to his cell phone, and finally he picked up. He had just arrived – his flight left Halifax 3 hours late. He would have to rebook somehow. The person behind me, who had overheard my situation, suggested that he book on a flight to Chicago and take a special hourly bus between O’Hare and the Milwaukee airports. The stewardess said I could make one more call if I could do it quickly. Thanked her a million times and called Dad to give him the details. Then the plane took off.

Once in Milwaukee, I took my time getting my bags and looking at the General Billy Mitchell museum in the terminal before I attempted to call Dad again (in case he was still on the way to Chicago). He picked up immediately. He was not able to get on the Chicago flight, so I would need to pick him up the next morning when he arrives on the morning flight from Toronto.

Luckily, I brought my iPod for listening to audiobooks, because it is 2 hours from the Billy Mitchell Airport to our hotel in Appleton.

Dad in front of the B-17 Aluminum Overcast.
Dad in front of the B-17 Aluminum Overcast.

Once I collected my dad the next morning, we drove straight to Oshkosh. As a special treat for us, I had bought tickets for a flight on a B-17G bomber, named “Aluminum Overcast“. We had to check-in for the flight just after noon, so I wanted to get to the pick-up location quickly. I didn’t know how long it would take to walk from the parking to the check-in both (or how difficult it would be to find), so we rushed.

We got there with lots of time (they were about an hour behind schedule), but I am glad I made it a priority to get there early. Oshkosh is huge! It was the 60th Anniversary of the airshow. There would be about 508,000 spectators during the weekend, 10,000 to 15,000 planes of all sizes, and 4,000 volunteers. The planes ranged from an Air Force C-5 Galaxy to ultralights, from vintage biplanes and World War II Warbirds to an F/A-18 Hornet, plus the Goodyear Blimp.

The B-17G flight leaves from nearby Outagamie County Regional Airport, which is in Appleton. From the check-in booth, we boarded a shuttle bus for the 30-minute ride. We arrived just as the previous flight was leaving, so we got to watch the plane take off.

Once it returned, we were given a quick safety overview and allowed to board. We were told we could unbuckle and start to walk around the plane as soon as all the wheels were off the ground.

The climb-out was gentle, which was best when people are climbing around the fuselage. As we took off, I tried to imagine what it would have been like for those World War II airmen taking off to bomb Deutschland – the tension, the fear, knowing that sometimes the planes don’t come back, facing uncertain death before your 25th birthday.

I took in all the sights and noises. It was actually a lot of fun to take the flight. The views were amazing. We could go up to the bombardiers seat up in the nose for a spectacular view. I didn’t dwell on what it would have been like for the bomber, knowing he would be dropping 4-tons of ordinance on people living in a city not dissimilar his own hometown.

Head in the airstream, from the B-17 Aluminum Overcast.
Head in the airstream, from the B-17 Aluminum Overcast.

The flight was about 20 to 25 minutes long. I had an opportunity to go through the entire plane, from the tail (but not tail gunner’s position), the waist turrets, the radio area, the bomb bay, the cockpit and the bombardiers position in the nose. In the radio section part of the upper fuselage was removed and you would stick your head out the top of the plane and look around. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. The turbulent air stream blew me around as I had a completely unobstructed view of the ground and the topside of the plane.

I didn’t want it to end, but it did. Too soon we were back on the ground. In the hot afternoon and exhausted from the thrill, I fell asleep in the bus ride back to Oshkosh.

Once back at Oshkosh, we mostly wandered through the Warbirds section.

In the evening, we had dinner at Bennigan’s across the street from our hotel. I ordered a Monte Cristo. I thought a grilled sandwich would hit the spot. What I did not expect was that Bennigan’s deep-fries the Monte Cristo and dusts it with icing sugar. And it has two sandwiches, not just one. I was shocked when the dish arrived. I cannot imagine (nor does Bennigan’s display) how many calories were on the plate. They offered to make another one without deep-frying, but I hate to waste an entire plate of food so I went ahead with this monstrous meal. I could only eat half which made me feel bad for the waste. I also felt physically awful all night long as the massive amount of oil worked through my veins.

The next day we walked around another section of the huge air show. In one plaza were the modern jets, including the C-5 Galaxy, E-2C HawkeyeF-16 Falcon, P-3 Orion, KC-135, a DC-10-based Eye Clinic, and another B-17.

We walked around the nearby displays. At the GoPro booth, I ordered a new Motorsports Hero 2 and the battery backpack. The Honda HA-420 Hondajet was interesting, clear-paper design. There were many booths and displays for safety gear and lots of tools for  navigation.

Members of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Members of the Tuskegee Airmen.

We caught part of the talk by the Tuskegee Airmen, but missed the talk by one of the Doolittle Raiders. We watched two Ford Trimotor’s taking load after load of passengers for short flights.

After lunch (mmmm, BBQ pulled pork sandwich), we found a spot to view the afternoon air show.

The show lasted about 3 hours. There were stunt planes, an F/A-18 demonstration, Canadian Forces Skyhawks and Liberty Parachute teams and a huge re-enactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the war in the Pacific.

Tora! Tora! Tora! Enactment team.
Tora! Tora! Tora! Enactment team.

The Pearl Harbor demonstration was both awesome and disconcerting. While I understand that the event was an important historic event, I wondered if anyone else thought it was strange to re-enact what was basically a massive American military defeat with a large loss of life. The demonstration included later American victories like the daring Doolittle Raid, so I guess it’s a wash. But then, so many battles are still re-enacted through the world, such as the American Civil War – it’s not a new phenomenon.

On the other hand, the re-enactment was awesome. All air shows become more fantastic with large amounts of dynamite and gallons of gasoline. The explosions were huge!

During the air show, I tried to get some good quality photos. My goal was to create photos good enough for airliners.net. I had rented the Canon 100-400mm f/3.5-5.6 from Lens Rentals Canada. Being able to focus on a fast-moving plane was much harder than I expected. I was using my used Canon 50D while my 7D was being repaired.

The air show ended late in the afternoon. For dinner, my dad recommended we try the Golden Corral Buffet. They have a lot of choice so I could pick and choose, and the food was good. I could get some veggies as well as a selection of BBQ meats, pastas, Asian dishes and desert.

We talked about the family and about the future. For me, the key for this trip was to reconnect with my father. We rarely talk with each other. I wanted to open the door to normalize our relationship.

The love of flying. Thumbs-up from the Ford Trimotor pilot.
The love of flying.

For the final day of the air show, I wanted to go back and take more photos of the Warbirds that I had missed on Friday. However, when we got to Oshkosh many of the planes had already left. Sunday was the fly-out day for most of the planes. More than half had already disappeared overnight.

We stayed until the afternoon to watch the fly-out, including formations of Warbirds, and the grand finale of the C-5 take off. What a huge aircraft. It never looks like it is moving fast enough to take off. I suppose with an empty cargo hold that it must handle better than when it is fully loaded.

In the evening, the rains started. We had avoided all but a little drizzle, and I was very happy with the weather we had during the previous 3 days.

Early Monday morning we left Appleton for the airport. I planned lots of extra time to get through the rental-car return and airport security. I’m glad I added some buffer, as the TSA randomly choose to go through my luggage.

Dad and I at the famous Oshkosh arch.
Dad and I at the famous Oshkosh arch.

On our flight back to Toronto, I had little more to say. As the minutes ticked by, we sat in silence, side by side. I realized a fundamental truth. Although I want to get closer to my dad, in many unchangeable ways, we are just different. We have different points of view, different personalities, different priorities, and different social worlds. I was hoping to close the chasm between us. But we don’t have to be the same person – we are individuals. Instead, with this understanding, I can still talk with my father but I won’t set my expectations that we will ever become part of each other’s world.

Memorial Day in Kansas City

Celebration at the Station
Celebration at the Station

Today was Memorial Day in the US. Along with three co-workers, I went to downtown Kansas City to listen to the free concert (“Celebration at the Station“) and watch the fireworks. The concert was at Union Station and was presented by the Kansas City Symphony.

We arrived in the afternoon. After walking around a little, we grabbed some supper. I had a really amazingly delicious frozen custard at Sheridan’s.

We walked around the concert site as the sun began to set. We found a place to sit on the lawn to listen before it got too dark. The lawn was part of the Liberty Memorial and National World War I Museum, which overlooks Union Station.

Conclusion of the 1812 Overture
Conclusion of the 1812 Overture

The concluding piece was, of course, the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky. The Kansas Army National Guard were there with three M116 75mm howitzers. During the epic finale celebrating the defeat of Napoleons troops in Russia, they fired blanks. It was AWESOME.

After the concert was a wonderful fireworks presentation. After the fireworks, we drove back to our hotel in Overland Park.